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On-the-Record Press Call by Ambassador to the United States Robert "Woody" Johnson on the President's Visit to the United Kingdom

July 06, 2018

Via Teleconference

11:08 A.M. EDT

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you, and welcome to everybody to today's on-the-record briefing. We are lucky to have with us Ambassador Robert "Woody" Johnson, and who will discuss the President's visit to the United Kingdom.

This teleconference is expected to last about 20 minutes, and the content of today's call is embargoed until the call's conclusion.

The Ambassador will open with some remarks to discuss the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and follow that will a little more detail on the President's itinerary.

With that, I would like to open it up. And thank you so much for joining us today, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Hey, Robert. Thank you very much. It's a pleasure and an honor to be with you today. And good afternoon from London. Good morning from America -- in America.

And I'd like to start out with making a few remarks on the significance of the President's visit next week and go through some details, and end up giving you an idea of what the itinerary will be.

As you can imagine, we're very excited to have the President's first official visit to the UK. It's a very important visit by the President. The United Kingdom is an indispensable ally to the United States, and our alliance is built on trust, our shared history, and our language. But most importantly, our alliance is built on shared values -- the values of democracy, freedom, and justice, and law. Those are the values that have brought us together and kept us together for such a long time.

We've fought side by side and defended each other's values for over a hundred years. It's impossible for me -- for any of us to imagine what the world would be like if America and Britain hadn't stood together to defend Europe through two world wars and the Cold War that followed. Margaret Thatcher was right: This alliance has done more for the defense and the future of freedom than any other alliance in the world. It really does deserve the name that Churchill gave it, the "special relationship."

But I want to stress this special relationship is not just (inaudible). It's as strong now as it's ever been, and I personally see it every day. The security and prosperity of American and British people are completely intertwined.

Let me start with security. When it comes to the military, we're more aligned with the UK than almost any other nation in the world, bar none. They pay their way in NATO and shoulder their commitments to Europe's defense. You recently heard from Ambassador Hutchison. And, by the way, she's doing an incredible job at NATO for the American people. She's a very talented ambassador. I know her really well, and I knew her as a senator. She told us in the last briefing about the gravity of the threats we face from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

We need strong allies, that's for sure. The UK is an amazing, value-added partner on defense. They're meeting their 2 percent commitment. They're investing in the best equipment. The F-35 is a great example of that. It's a fifth-generation fighter plane. They're 15 percent partners in the F-35 project. They're trusted partners. They helped design it, and that wouldn't happen without the amount of trust that we have and the interoperability we have with the UK and with their military.

And in total, the UK will spend about $32 billion on American equipment over the next 10 years, and support. We have a lot of military assets here in the UK, and all over the world our soldiers are serving side by side. We're together in the fight against terrorism in Syria and Afghanistan. As General Mattis said when he came here recently, you don't go into battle without your allies. And there's no stronger ally for us than the UK. Britain can count on us, and America can count on Britain.

It's the same story with intelligence. We share information together that we don't necessarily share with everybody else. We -- I see this as I'm traveling around and seeing how the intelligence services work together. The UK has a very impressive intelligence capability; very talented people, particularly in cyber, but really all through their intelligence network, where they're probably the best in the world. The UK is a great partner.

But security is just one of the sides of our alliance. The UK is also one of our most important partners in business and innovation. Just like the U.S., this is all about jobs, jobs, jobs. And British businesses invest billions upon billions in the U.S., more than any other country. In fact, we invest more in each other than anywhere else in the world -- about a trillion dollars -- over a trillion dollars total. British businesses hire over a million American workers, and about the same over here.

The UK is also our largest market in Europe. We export about $121 -- a little bit over that -- billion dollars' worth of goods and services annually. Total trade between us is about $230 billion for goods and services. So we've got a pretty balanced relationship in that department.

And the trade is actually going up. In the first few months of this year, we've seen trade go up about 21 percent. That was not anticipated. Everybody said it was going to go down; it's going up.

The UK is also one of the best partners in science and research. You know, in almost every field, you usually find a Brit and an American working side by side in a lab.

So the UK is a big part of our success and that's the context in which the President is coming here to the UK. The President knows this country -- President Trump knows this country probably better than any President in recent history. This is where his mother was born. Actually in Lewis, it's one of the Hebrides Islands -- the outer Hebrides Islands in Scotland. And I was just in Islay in the Inner Hebrides. So it's beautiful and remote, and kind of out there, as part of Scotland.

So the President knows how important the special relationship is firsthand and that's why the bust of Churchill is actually in the Oval Office as we speak. This is not an accident. He knows that he has an opportunity to make this special relationship even stronger.

The UK is very preoccupied right now with Brexit. There's a lot of debate about the pros and cons. But as Americans, we always look at where the opportunities are. Britain has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change direction. And I'm very confident, whichever way this goes, that Britain will make a success of Brexit and whatever else it does in the future because the UK is loaded with talent. This is true of London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff. I've been going all around the country and I really see it firsthand.

You find incredible scientists. You find innovation, highly skilled factory workers, brilliant entrepreneurs. You know, you've got the art scene, the cultural scene, the legal environment -- just the whole structure of the country. This is a country with so much culture and tradition. They have strong institutions. They have a great legal system. They have a very bright future ahead of them.

So Britain is going to be a very important partner and a continuing partner -- important partner for the U.S. And the President has been clear right from the beginning, really, of his term. He said, he'd "love to do a bilateral trade deal." And he's really ready to step up on that the minute we get the go-ahead to do it. And he's -- he'll get it done fast because I know it's a major priority for him. He's going to strengthen and nurture the already strong relationship we have on business and security.

So let me turn to the itinerary here and start with Thursday, the 12th. When the President comes directly from NATO, he'll arrive in early afternoon. This is not for reporting right now. But he will be -- but for your background -- he'll be flying into Stansted Airport and the arrival will be on camera. He will then meet -- do a meet-and-greet with embassy staff and family at Winfield House -- that's the Ambassador's residence.

The Prime Minister will then host the President and the First Lady for a black tie dinner at Blenheim that evening. And that also will be on camera. That starts at about 7:30. For those who don't know, Blenheim is a spectacular palace. You probably all know it. A little bit north of Oxford. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it's perhaps the most famous as being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, but it's absolutely a spectacular and well-known residence over here.

So that of course is a very symbolic site. Churchill was passionate, as you know, about the U.S.-UK relationship and alliance. And it was he that named it the "special relationship" in the first place. So it will be a tribute to the great history behind our deep relationship that it's held there.

The event at Blenheim will begin with a military ceremony in the Great Court, also on camera. That will be performed by Scots, Irish, and Welsh grand bands -- Guard Bands rather, Pipes and Drums of the Highlanders, 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The dinner itself will be a celebration of the incredible business links between our two countries. Guests at the dinner will include business leaders from every sector, really -- defense and financial services, engineering, and you name it.

During the dinner, the Countess of Wessex Orchestra will perform. And then the Royal Regiment of Scotland will pipe the President out at the end, and that's going to be very rousing, as you can imagine. The President and First Lady will (inaudible) to London overnight at Winfield House again.

On the following morning -- the next morning, the President and the Prime Minister will visit a defense site and see the really impressive interoperability of the U.S. and UK military. This demonstration will be off camera. You know, the interoperability and capabilities will, I think, be very impressive to the President, and I think he knows that.

The President and the Prime Minister will then travel to Chequers. And this is the heart of the visit. Another spectacular venue which is like the UK version of Camp David. It has all that security, and it's out by itself. So this is going to be a very important meeting for the President.

The President and the Prime Minister have a good relationship, and they'll have bilateral talks on a range of very important topics. This will include a working lunch, and there will be pictures at the start of the bilat. And then there will be a press conference at around 1:40 p.m.

The next stage of the visit, really, is the highlight of any President's visit to the UK. And that -- around five o'clock, the President and the First Lady will travel to Windsor Castle to meet Her Majesty The Queen. As head of state, Her Majesty has met every President -- U.S. President since 1952 -- amazing -- with only one exception, that's Lyndon B. Johnson. So I know the President and the First Lady are really looking forward to meeting her. And we expect pictures to be available in the usual way on that.

Following the visit to Windsor, the President and the First Lady will travel to Scotland to spend some time preparing for Helsinki, which is the next -- was the next stage, which you heard about earlier from Ambassador Huntsman.

Just one word on Ambassador Huntsman as well. I mean, I met him during my studying for this diplomatic post, and he's very -- he's a very well prepared diplomat. This is his third post, and he's going to be able to do an incredible job for all Americans over in Russia.

So that's the basic outline of the President's visit to the UK. His mission is really simply to strengthen the special relationship through shared security and prosperity. And we're certainly looking forward to having him over here. It's going to be a very special visit.

And I want to thank everybody on this call for being here. And I look forward to answering any questions you might have. And thank you, Robert.

MR. PALLADINO: Thank you very much, Ambassador Johnson. At this time, we would like to open it up to questions and answers. I would ask, one, that you state your name and your outlet, and to limit your questions to one so we can provide more opportunity for more folks on the line. And secondly, please confine your questions to the President's United Kingdom -- the subject of today's call. Thank you.

Q: Hey, this is (inaudible) at HuffPost. I have a couple questions. First, is the United States taking a position on the sort of Brexit that Prime Minister May should be pursuing? I mean, you mentioned them already coming with a trade deal --

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Yeah, could you speak --

OPERATOR: We're having trouble hearing you.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Yeah, we are. The audio is breaking down a little bit. Can you speak closer to the mic?

Q: Okay. Is this better now?


Q: Hello? Okay.


Q: Is the United States taking a position on the sort of Brexit negotiations that are going on? Are we urging the hard Brexit or not? Are we keeping out of that?

And second, will the President be playing golf when he's preparing for the Helsinki summit? And which of the two courses is he visiting?

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: No, we're not advocating hard or soft. You know, the statement I made earlier was that whether it's hard or soft, we know that Great Britain is going to do very, very well because we have a lot of confidence in the people here. And we know what they're capable of doing.

Whether the President plays golf or not, I'm not sure. I think that's -- he's going to spend a lot of time preparing for Helsinki. That's a very important agreement -- very important meeting, rather. And his schedule hasn't been finalized, so.

MR. PALLADINO: Next question please, Tonya.

Q: Hi, this Andrew Feinberg --

OPERATOR: Caller, please go ahead.

Q: This is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media. Just --

OPERATOR: And, caller, we're having a bit of trouble hearing you. If you could please speak closer to the mic.

Q: Is that better?

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Yeah, that's better.

Q: Okay, good. This is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media. I'm wondering if the President is aware of the plans for the large protest balloon in his likeness that many Londoners want to float over Central London during his visit, and if he has a reaction to that and the many protests that are planned during his visit.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Yes. I think we're all aware of these things. But the President is keenly focused on what his objectives are. He appreciates free speech both in this country and in our country. It's one of the things that binds us together is the freedoms that we share. But I know he's going to be very focused on the special relationship and making sure that that's improved, and that our prosperity and security are enhanced on this trip.

Q: Hi, it's Demetri Sevastopulo with the Financial Times. Just following up on the last question. President Trump is really spending very little time in Central London itself. Is that a deliberate decision on your part to keep him away from the protesters?

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Well, thank you for that question. No, it's not. This is a short trip. It's absolutely packed with things that he has to do and this -- you know, there's a lot of organization and planning that went into it. And the fact is, we are in Central London. And so he'll be spending a lot of time in Central London and using that as a place to go to these other -- the other things he has to do that I mentioned earlier.

So, no. The President is not avoiding anything. The President is merely trying to get as impactful a trip as he can get in a 24-hour period.

Q: Hi, it's Margaret Talev with Bloomberg. Thank you for doing the call. I did also want to ask about some of the Russian malign activities, be they election meddling or, in particular, with the UK, some of the poisoning concerns. Is the President on the same page as the UK about what Russia is actually responsible for in these instances? And will there be some sort of huddling on that issue and a message that the President will take to Putin? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Thank you, Margaret. Yeah, I mean, I -- you know, I think they are on the same page. I mean, the President was very receptive to what happened regarding the poisoning. And he expelled 60 spies or people -- whatever you want to call them -- very rapidly. So I think he was extremely responsive to that. And they're on the same page on that. And I think they'll be discussing -- I know that they'll be discussing that issue, the issue of the relationship with Russia at that meeting at Chequers. But, good question.

Q: Hi. This is Frank Langfitt from NPR. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. A quick logistical question: Is President Trump going to spend any time on the ground in a motorcade? Or is the plan really to have him sort of helicopter from place to place?

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Yeah. Well, thank you for that question. He'll use various modes of transportation, but it's basically -- he's got a -- to get to these sites is going to require being in the air for part of it.

Q: Hi, this is Jeff Mason with Reuters. Mr. Ambassador, you mentioned the possibility of a trade agreement once you get the go-ahead. Has preparation started for that? Are there any sort of outlines or plans? And would tariffs be part of that?

And secondly, just a logistical question. You mentioned that the visit to Windsor -- that pictures would be available in the normal way. Can you confirm that the press pool traveling with the President will actually get to see the President meet the Queen? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: The second part, I can't confirm. I think that the way that Windsor -- the way that Her Majesty's staff handles these photographs routinely as Presidents and heads of state come in, it will be the way it's handled this time.

In terms of the bilat -- bilateral agreement, if that was the question -- the President is ready, willing, and able to do that as soon as possible. And there are people in all departments of government that are looking right now. We have ad hoc committees from every department -- whether it's Treasury, finance, trade -- are looking at how to put that together really rapidly and efficiently. So there's a lot of work being done on it.

MR. PALLADINO: Tonya, let's have time for one more question. Thank you.

Q: Hello. It's James Hearst (ph) from British Forces Radio and Television. Does President Trump share Jim Mattis's view that the UK will require a level of defense spending beyond what you would expect from other NATO allies? And is he going to tell Theresa May she needs to spend more on defense? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR JOHNSON: Thank you for that question. Yeah, it kind of depends what the view of the country is when Brexit occurs and when that's done. As in, where does this country and where do the people want to go and where do the leadership want to them.

Mattis is looking -- Defense Secretary Mattis is looking at capabilities that is going to be necessary for our partners. So he (inaudible) more but he wants capabilities to be there and the interoperability are very, very important to us. So you, as a country, are going to have to decide what you feel is necessary.

MR. PALLADINO: Wonderful. Thank you very much Ambassador Johnson for joining us today and thank you to everyone else on the line for tuning in. This will conclude today's teleconference. The embargo is now lifted. Thank you all for joining. Bye-bye.

Donald J. Trump, On-the-Record Press Call by Ambassador to the United States Robert "Woody" Johnson on the President's Visit to the United Kingdom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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